Hillary Clinton is taking a sledgehammer to Medicare. In a move calculated to fire up the extreme left wing of the Democratic Party, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton pledges to open Medicare to people 55 to 64, and make a “public option” insurance plan for all ages. The 65-and-overs are already having a hard time finding a doctor willing to accept Medicare’s stingy payments. Clinton’s proposals will suddenly invite in millions more patients competing for the same doctors. Seniors, brace yourselves for long waits to see a doctor.

Medicare is stretched so thin to meet the needs of today’s seniors that expanding enrollment is like inviting the neighborhood for dinner when you don’t have enough to feed your own kids.

Over a fifth of doctors currently are turning away new Medicare patients, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey. Clinton’s scheme would add a massive segment of the population to Medicare’s ranks. It’s likely — a sudden 20 percent increase in patients knocking on doctors’ doors for appointments.

A public option would compound the problem. A public option is a government-run insurance plan. It would be offered alongside established commercial plans like Cigna, WellCare and Humana, but it would pay doctors and hospitals at Medicare-like rates.

President Obama claims it will “deliver care more cost effectively.”

Like so many of the president’s healthcare claims, this one’s untrue. Doctors and hospitals clobbered with these new low rates will have to get creative to make ends meet. They’ll shift costs to privately insured patients and also further limit how many Medicare patients they treat.

Hospital organizations are warning that “adding millions more enrollees whose healthcare would be reimbursed at Medicare rates” will “threaten access.” That’s the immediate danger for seniors. They may still have a Medicare card, but hospitals and doctors will be devising ways to avoid treating them.

Sadly, the Democratic Party and its nominee have decided that promising more healthcare goodies pays off politically, never mind the peril to Medicare.

Medicare is projected to run out of money for hospital bills in 2028. Then the nation will be faced with a Hobson’s choice: Either drastically slash what it pays hospitals — risking that some hospitals will stop accepting Medicare — or impose draconian tax hikes.

Despite this looming crisis. the Obama crowd has used Medicare as its piggy bank. In 2010, President Obama took and shifted it to fund new subsidies for purchasers of Obamacare plans and a vast expansion of Medicaid. Obama has added 20 million people to the Medicaid rolls, and hiked benefits so that the cost is $8,000 per Medicaid enrollee, far more than the $5,600 average spent on privately insured patients.

Now Clinton proposes adding millions more people to the Medicaid rolls and allocating billions of additional dollars for community health centers that serve primarily immigrants here illegally. Ignoring Medicare’s precarious future while piling on new healthcare spending for other programs is a sorry reflection of her party’s priorities. And it’s political opportunism at its worst.

Politicians need to shore up Medicare before promising new publicly funded healthcare benefits. The nation is $19 trillion in debt, and pressure is building for what Washington insiders call “entitlement reform.” The best way to reform entitlements is to stop creating new ones. Otherwise, every new program will mean less care for seniors.

Donald Trump gets that. He pledges to protect Medicare by repealing Obama’s funding cuts and reversing Obamacare regulations designed to restrict care for seniors.

Clinton’s campaign tries to pin the “heartless tycoon” label on Trump, claiming that he plans to eviscerate Medicare. To see the real danger to Medicare, Clinton should look in the mirror.

Betsy McCaughey is chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths and a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and author of “Government by Choice: Inventing the United States Constitution.” To find out more about Betsy McCaughey and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.


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